Learn how to reach optimal mobile OS privacy. In this article, we will focus on open-source operating systems, so we will review LineageOS apps and features.
In this and the following posts, we will introduce mobile OSs. They are widely used and it is therefore important to bring privacy to your handset. In this series, we will review the OSs iOS, Android, LineageOS and other custom ROMs with privacy features in mind.
This article is part of a series, all 6 parts are here:
In “Mobile OSs 1 - Android Privacy Features Review“, we have explained why Android is one of the worst OSs for privacy advocates, you could think of. Unfortunately, the other smartphone giant Apple and their iOS operating system is also not ideal. Therefore, the only smart choice is to look for alternatives, which we will introduce now.
Right from the start, there are a lot of useful open-source apps pre-installed on LineageOS:
The best ones are AudioFX (optimises audio presets), Browser, Calculator, Calendar, Camera (gives you a lot of options for photos), Clock, Contacts (much better than the normal Android contacts app), Email, Files (file manager), FMRadio, Gallery (for photos), Messaging (SMS), Music, a Phone app and a Recorder (for memos, audio recordings). Have a look at the full list of LineageOS apps on Wikipedia.
Additionally, there are the features of the OS itself, including Trust, Privacy Guard, Trebuchet (customisable launcher) and things like home screen widgets and a customisable notification area.
We have explained what features you have right from the start, when you install LineageOS, but since it is based on Android, you can install any Android app. We will now list the options you have:
You can get open-source apps from F-Droid, which is an app marketplace based on Aptoide. In contrast to the Google Play Store, it only lists apps that are free and open-source. F-Droid has its own open-source app repositories and lets you download apps or open links to the licence of the app or the source code on GitHub, etc. F-Droid also gives you the option to use the app repositories of the Guardian Project.
The Guardian Project offers privacy-focused open-source apps and mobile OS enhancements, including ChatSecure (encrypted OTR-messaging for iOS), ObscureCam (disguise faces to avoid image recognition,) Ostel (encrypted VoIP calls), Ripple (panic responder app), Círculo (secure social app) and Edward Snowden’s Haven app. The Guardian Project can be found on GitHub and on the Google Play Store.
Downloading their software from F-Droid is preferable, however. A full list of open-source Android apps is on Wikipedia.
Although we do not recommend it, you can absolutely download apps from the Google Play Store if you must use it. The Play Store has to be flashed while installing LineageOS itself. You do not have to do that and could use alternatives like Aptoide, the open-source Aptoide fork F-Droid, ApkMirror and GetJar. You actually do not need that many additional apps, due to the large number of pre-installed apps.
Google hates CyanogenMod/LineageOS so much that they even threatened the developers with a cease-and-desist order. Since then the custom ROM does not include Google apps anymore.
There is an entire community around custom ROMs and building your own smartphone OS. The LineageOS wiki is fantastic and will teach you everything there is to know about building your own OS from source code or installing a build that you can download from the website. If you are interested, please check them out.
LineageOS is the only custom ROM we can recommend for absolute beginners, because of the good documentation and maintenance of the builds. Just like with Linux, you should never underestimate the importance of community support. There is always someone in a forum to help you out if you get stuck with LineageOS. We cannot say that for all small custom-ROM projects. LineageOS has the major advantage of being fully compatible with Android and its apps. New builds are verified using the Android Compatibility Test Suite.
Do not be afraid of installing LineageOS on your phone. You may hear horror stories in forums about “bricked” devices that are unusable after installing a ROM. Those cases are rare and are often the result of dumb mistakes like installing LineageOS on an unsupported device, installing the build for the wrong device, using cheap USB cables or combining LineageOS with the wrong TWRP version. There are not that many things that can go wrong and the official website makes things pretty clear. You can always try a ROM out first on a cheap phone, like a Huawei or Xiaomi device.
WhatsApp, owned by Facebook, does not like that you use LineageOS to increase your privacy.
Personally, we have a Xiaomi Mi A1 for 150€ and a Mi 8 for 320€ with LineageOS. Xiaomi has an “only 5% profit margin” policy. The phones are therefore high-quality and cheap, because they make their profit by selling as many phones as possible, instead of a few expensive ones.
The LineageOS project is a massive achievement. Their GitHub profile includes no less than 2,000 repositories for the system.